Parental Alienation: What Is It and How Do You Cope?

After close to three decades and without any planning, I chose to escape a narcissistically abusive marriage. Wow! I wished I would have read Tracy A. Malone’s book, Divorcing Your Narcissist: You Can’t Make This Shit Up! because then I would have learned from her extensive research and experience about the “covert tricks they pull” and I could have planned for a more comfortable exit.

I could have chosen one lawyer who understood covert, malignant narcissism as opposed to the very costly 15 lawyers it took over many, many years (and which still continues to this day; yes, I am still being dragged into court in  2022, even after filing for divorce in 2013 with the “final” judgment in 2015) to sift through the abuser’s fraud, bad faith petitions and legal chaos in my efforts to simply fight for truth, justice, and equity. I might have been able to keep my house and assets. I might not have credit issues as I experienced the depletion of all my hard-earned money. I might not have lost all of my neighbors and most of my friends, family, and coworkers to the false narrative, outright lies, and believable half-truths of an aggressive smear campaign. But more importantly, I might not have lost my two adult children to Parental Alienation.

My decision to file for divorce came with shocking consequences that took me by surprise. I knew that there would be repercussions because my lightbulb was clearly illuminated when the narcissist’s mask slipped and some of his many secrets were exposed, but I had no idea of the extent of what was to come as a result of my choice. I honestly and very naively thought I could end my marriage and we could co-parent our adult children as we respectively went our separate ways. That’s not how these scenarios play out when you are dealing with someone who has malevolent intentions and psychopathic tendencies.

When I lost my “American Dream,” and most everything that provided me with safety, security, and stability, my reality was shattered. However, it wasn’t until experiencing a parent’s worst nightmare that my world was forever changed. I was certain that I had already endured my share of life’s obstacles and challenges, then the unthinkable happened: I lost my two adult children to Parental Alienation.

Parental Alienation is a worldwide epidemic affecting millions of men, women, children, and families and is considered by renowned psychological researchers to be a severe form of Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence. This unfortunate dynamic often happens to dads and moms after a divorce or separation where the children suddenly become loyal to and align with the parent who psychologically manipulates, brainwashes, and empowers them to unjustifiably reject, hate, fear, and become hostile towards their other loving, normal-range parent. Parental Alienation is a calculated and intentional campaign of denigration to attempt to destroy loving parent-child bonds by enlisting the children as a means for revengeful abusers to inflict further harm on their former partner.

The innocent children are used as weapons in the vindictive parent’s war of revenge to discredit, punish, isolate and hurt their ex, the loving, targeted parent. Despite positive, wonderful, and firsthand foundational experiences that should prove otherwise, even adult children can be easily brainwashed with cult-like strategies into believing that one of their parents, and that entire side of their family, is bad, and should be feared and avoided at all costs. The abuser’s calculated mission is to destroy your relationship with your kids. After they leave you homeless, deplete your finances, ruin your reputation and credit, jeopardize your job, negatively impact your physical health, turn your friends, family, and neighbors against you and force you to engage in frivolous legal court proceedings, they will take away what means the most to you: your children. These alienators don’t take into account or even care about the lifelong emotional damage they are inflicting on their own children. The alienators care more about destroying the other parent than they care about the well-being of their own children.

If the children are minors, the alienators will often go to great lengths to misuse authorities and the family court legal system to convince therapists, guardian ad litems, lawyers, and judges to deny the loving parent custody or limit visitation with false accusations, forged documents, and misrepresentations. If the children are adults, the alienators set the stage for the children to be controlled, financially dependent, and bought off with elaborate gifts. Some abusers even encourage the adult children to threaten the other parent with police arrests, or to actually press charges and file restraining orders against their other parent. In all cases, alienators will do everything and anything to destroy that other parent and the loving bond shared between that parent and the kids. Some abusers inflict the ultimate punishment by murdering their ex and/or the children. Questioning outsiders often believe that the targeted parent must have done something to deserve the estrangement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Researchers have shown that this form of rejection is absolutely unnatural, unwarranted, and instigated by one malevolent person: the alienating parent.

Alienated adult children feel justified in their anger, fear, and/or hostility, eventually cutting off all contact with one of their parents, and usually that side’s extended family. The alienating parent will directly or indirectly, through gaslighting, projection, smearing, blatant lies, and believable half-truths, paint the negative picture that their other parent is crazy, unstable, dangerous, or incapable of properly loving or caring for their own children, even if they were actually considered by the abuser as a wonderful parent with no complaints prior to the separation. Abusers will use blame-shifting by wrongly accusing their ex of mistreating the children or putting them in harm’s way to make themselves look like the better parent. They portray a false positive public persona as they act one way in front of others and another way behind closed doors. However, adult children know deep down which parent lies, cheats, and steals and which parent doesn’t. Still, the children side with the alienating parent because they know the safe parent’s love is unconditional. These kids live in fear of abandonment and feel that if they don’t support the narcissistic abusing parent, the consequences to their life would be detrimental.

I am a targeted mom of almost a decade. My abuser, through his calculated and malevolent broad-reaching agenda, was able to get our adult children to align with him and reject me. It is very unnatural for a loving parent to have their children wrongly ripped away from their life, especially after raising them into their twenties and previously enjoying a loving and healthy relationship. Researchers conclude that children do not reject a normal-range, loving parent unless they are coerced to do so. Devastated, sad, confused, and shocked, I struggled to understand why bad things and injustices happen to good, honest, loving, empathetic, and upstanding people, and this includes Parental Alienation.

I was living the “American Dream,” raising my two beautiful children, working in a fulfilling 35-year career as a special education high school teacher, with 12 years as a university adjunct graduate school professor, and residing in a gorgeous home complete with the quintessential white picket fence, studying for an advanced degree, pursuing my hobbies and interests and volunteering for worthwhile causes. I was on top of the world. A deep sense of compassion was woven into the fabric of my empathetic being. As a person of integrity who believes in love, honesty, commitment, fidelity, fiscal responsibility, perseverance, and goodwill, I thought that everyone I was close to had those same intrinsic moral values, especially my partner. Like many Domestic Violence victims and survivors before me, I learned the hard way that your spouse and others close to you can betray you, be covertly abusive and take advantage of your trusting empathetic nature. Abusers and Alienators are malevolent predators and don’t let their targeted prey go easily and for years I continued to be and am still smeared, stalked, and silenced.

Although my adult children are alive, Parental Alienation can be compared to experiencing your children’s physical death; targeted parents go through all of the same stages of grief, you are just grieving the death of living children. Days of no contact turn into weeks, months, and in my case years. It is still hard to accept that adult children would cut off all contact with a parent who gave them such a wonderful and happy life with unconditional love and support. Through researching this form of child abuse, I have now learned that cult-like brainwashing, coercive control, and manipulation can lead children to experience “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Independent Thinker Phenomenon.” The children are empowered and rewarded by the alienator to feel justified in rejecting half of who they are. It’s so very heart-wrenching for a loving parent to have no or limited ability to protect their children from the abuse of Parental Alienation. As we parents suffer, we need to remember that our children are also dealing with unbelievable pain and loss.

As an erased mom, I was forced into survival mode. Despite the negativity, pain, and darkness, I chose to embrace positivity, love, and light, as I have always done throughout my life when faced with adversity. Through this trauma, I chose to handle this life challenge with love, compassion, goodness, and forgiveness. Yes, I have eventually come to the stage of forgiving my abuser and those who have caused me harm. Acknowledging my grief and loss and learning about the Cluster B behaviors and Covert Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disordered individuals ultimately became the impetus to reclaiming my life. Carrying on seemed impossible because motherhood was such a huge part of how I defined myself. Coming to terms with my new reality, I researched Parental Alienation to learn as much about it as I could. It has been said that knowledge is power. It doesn’t take the pain away, but knowledge does lead to greater understanding and acceptance.

Experiencing Parental Alienation and understanding the dynamics of my abuser’s undiagnosed condition and behaviors have helped me heal from the gut-wrenching heartache caused by this severe form of Family Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would lose both of my adult children to Parental Alienation. It is still mind-boggling that this happened, especially with two decades of healthy, normal-range parent-child interactions. This devastating trauma has completely changed the course of my life.

To cope, I did a great deal of soul searching and research to make sense of my experiences and process what I’ve been through. A very necessary step in the healing process is to do the inner, shadow work. I needed to reflect on my own childhood experiences, family dynamics, core wounds, and Intergenerational Family Trauma to see my role in the situation. I had to learn about and acknowledge my own traits and behaviors that contributed to my being a chosen target for abuse, which included being an over-giver, a people pleaser, an extreme empath, and someone who did not have healthy boundaries. I had to learn about trauma bonds. I had to do a deep dive into my own life conditioning to fully understand the situation I found myself in, and make some necessary changes to be emotionally healthier.

It wasn’t easy and didn’t happen overnight, but my healing journey eventually led to my living a blessed life filled with gratitude, purpose, peace, and love. I even pray for my abuser and all abusers for them to heal their core wounds and to be guided to kindness and goodness. Even though I currently face life without my adult children, I understand that they have their own journeys on this earthly plane. Love, honesty, and goodness have always guided me; I can only hope and pray that my alienated children remember those same instilled values, and the truth will be uncovered.

Over time I was engulfed with reassuring and peaceful feelings of pure love instead of anger, despair, or vindictiveness. My heart was filled with hope and gratitude for so many wonderful years of treasured experiences and happy times my children and I experienced together. Even though the alienator has most likely destroyed or discarded anything that would encourage our children to elicit positive memories with me, I was thankful that I took numerous photographs, made extensive scrapbooks, and kept digital files so there’s tangible proof of my children’s happy upbringing and the love they shared with their mother.

What keeps me going despite the devastating loss of my children to Parental Alienation? I would say that my integrity, belief in a higher power, staying true to my values, and realizing that I cannot control the negative behaviors that others do; I can only control myself and how I choose to respond. I have made a conscious choice to reclaim my life. I know not everyone can handle this devastation. It’s important for me to show my kids that good, honest people continue to take the high ground, even when faced with adversity. Actions speak louder than words. Deep down they know that their mom is not the bad person their other parent made me out to be. At some point, however, the loving targeted parent must look out for their own emotional health and well-being.

I now have a renewed sense of purpose to live a joy-filled existence. Even though my adult children are not part of my day-to-day, I understand that we all have our own journeys and believe that eventually my children will know the truth they were fed a false narrative and that their mom has always loved them to the moon and back. I feel it’s important as a responsible mom to continue to be a role model for my children, so they can witness a positive, productive response to a horrific situation. Children need to understand that there will always be adversity and challenges in our lives, but that we have the power to respond in a way that does not contribute in a negative manner.

I found tremendous healing by processing my feelings and experiences through meditation, prayer, and the written word, thus, the author in me was born. Writing has helped me make sense of this unwarranted alienation, transforming my pain into power. Recovering from the unbelievable trauma of Domestic Violence, Narcissistic Abuse, Parental Alienation, and Intergenerational Family Trauma is a process for all who are targeted by the misguided evil-doers. Unfortunately, our abused children need to have their lightbulbs of truth turned on for them to begin to understand what really happened and to heal from the injustices done to them by their alienating parent.

There is always hope for reuniting, although so much valuable time has been lost and abused children and targeted parents can’t get back the years of separation. The pain of missed milestones creates such sadness, but there is the possibility of reuniting and creating new connections and new memories. The abuser can try to erase you and rewrite history, but loving parent-child bonds cannot truly be severed.

I am now finding my voice in the hopes of inspiring others and validating their journeys, as I continue to heal. The experiences and voices of survivors matter, and we should not be silenced for speaking the truth, despite the fear the abuser attempts to instill by their threats. Our words need to be heard, however uncomfortable the conversation may be or the abuser’s direct or indirect efforts to silence us. Truth, compassion, goodness, peace, and love will and must prevail.

I want to extend an inspirational message of empowerment to all the beautiful dads, moms,  children, and family members who find themselves in darkness and despair, or living through life’s challenges, including Domestic Violence and Parental Alienation. Nobody deserves to experience abuse. However, enduring trauma and devastating loss can actually be the catalyst leading you to a positive turning point in your life. Just when you think you can’t survive and go on, you can find the inner strength to persevere. I did the work to understand Parental Alienation and it helps. Despite significant losses, I choose to live a blessed, purposeful, and joy-filled life and am hopeful that others can as well. Seize life’s challenges as opportunities to reflect as you search for deeper meanings to make sense of your experiences. I sincerely pray that your journey brings you lasting joy, authentic love, and many blessings. As a person who has experienced the trauma of Parental Alienation, I believe that there is hope that you CAN survive and thrive. As Tracy A. Malone says, “You can be a surTHRIVER!”



Dr. Marni Hill Foderaro is an award-winning and celebrated author, speaker, and educator. She earned her doctorate in education from Northern Illinois University and completed postdoctoral studies at Harvard after a very successful and rewarding 35-year career as a high school special education teacher, with 12 years as a university adjunct graduate school professor. Marni’s life was forever changed after experiencing numerous trauma-induced STEs-Spiritually Transformative Encounters. Marni’s 5-Star Reader’s Favorite, 2022 Hollywood Book Fest Runner-Up, and 2020 Best Books Award Winning Spiritual fictionGod Came to My Garage Sale” is prominently endorsed by James Redfield, best-selling author of “The Celestine Prophecy” series of books and founding directors of IANDS (International Association for Near-Death Studies). Marni’s latest prominently endorsed 5-book series is entitled: “True Deceit False Love” which addresses Domestic Violence, Narcissistic Abuse, Parental Alienation, and Intergenerational Family Trauma. Marni is a lover of animals, nature, music, and world travel who handles life’s challenges with love and compassion. She values honesty, integrity, equality, and goodness and prays for peace on earth. Marni was born in the South, raised her children in the Midwest, and lives in the Caribbean. In addition to her speaking engagements and various writing endeavors, Marni is a contributing author to numerous anthology books. In January 2022 Marni was inducted into the Bestselling Authors International Organization.

Dr. Marni Hill Foderaro’s books are sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Balboa Press/Hay House, and wherever fine books are sold.

Her podcast and T.V. interviews, guest articles, speaking engagements, book signings, and events can be found under “Happenings” on her website.

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